I'm an audiophile and want to improve my current iMac audio system

walkie

macrumors 6502
Original poster
Feb 13, 2010
331
3
Hi people, I'm wanting to improve my current audio system for my iMac, but I'm little confused about what to purchase, that's what I've been thinking about:

1) External audio card (don't know which one, need help) that fits my 21" iMac
2) A pair of amplified monitor speakers (need recommendation, I like Focal CMS65)

Ok, that's what I have in mind, I've chosen an amplified speakers since I can save a little money, but don't know if I'll be sacrifying sound quality by ditching a good separate amplifier system?, as for buying an external sound card, I have no idea I'm new to it, I'm not a musician but an audiophile, I would like to buy a good sound card for listening crystal sound music, so I don't know which one will suit me, USB?/Firewire? 96khz?, sampling bits?, please suggest brands and models and posible configurations, using monitor speakers or separate amplifiers. My budget is around 1500$ for all.

Thanks in advance
sorry for my writing since I'm not native english speaker.
 

silentsim

macrumors regular
Jul 9, 2010
142
0
Well the first step is to have a good source (ie FLAC music files) or 320 bit rate.

You will want an external DAC. a USB DAC will work wonders. I use the AudioEngine d1 DAC (170$) and it is amazing, a big improvement over onboard sound. DACS start as low as 30$, as high as a few thousand.

In terms of speakers there is lots you can do...depending on desk space/budget/setup.
 

wrinkster22

macrumors 68030
Jun 11, 2011
2,623
6
Toronto
Considering English is not your first language- yours is excellent :)
What type of music will you be listening? Is bass important or highs and lows?
As a previous poster said, the actual music file will need to be high- you could spend all this money but if you source of audio is not good it will be a waste.

I am not so sure about audio cards, sorry.

Speakers:
Audioengines are generally well reviewed. They have good sound, are not very expensive, they are customizable, and look attractive.
Online store
 

oxfordguy

macrumors 6502a
Feb 27, 2008
503
4
Oxford, England
Hi,

Regarding amplified speakers, I have the Blue Sky EXO2 2.1 professional desktop monitor system - its sounds awesome (especially for the small size) and for what you get was relatively cheap (a little over £300 I think), see:
http://abluesky.com/products/exo2-new/

I also have an external 4-channel audio interface (so supports up to two sets of stereo outputs, good for me as I also do digital DJing and wanted a monitor channel, though input for recording etc. is only 2 channel), the Echo AudioFire4:
http://www.echoaudio.com/Products/FireWire/AudioFire4/index.php
"It's a full duplex 24-bit 96 kHz interface with a routing playback feature between the computer and different physical outputs, including S/PDIF."

The sound quality from this is superb. The only issue might be that its a Firewire interface and Apple is removing Firewire ports from their new lineup of portable computers, though I bought the new Apple Thunderbolt to Firewire adaptor to solve this problem for my new Macbook Air.

Firewire is arguably a better interface for an audio interface than USB 1.1 for various reasons (such as available bandwidth), though USB 2.0 (or even USB 3.0) audio interfaces will be on par.
 

Newtoy

macrumors newbie
Aug 5, 2012
10
0
Use what the music maker use

1. Soundcard: For your budget, you have only 1 choice. But its also one of the best sounding soundcard that money can buy. The Apogee duet 2. Look for review from the internet and you should get more detail. I personally just switched to an RME UCX. See if you are willing to spend some extra for iPad compatibility.

2. The only power monitor I can recommend is the Genelac 8030 or bigger. You will see them in use at all major recording studios. They sound so good that you can actually feel the sound. They also last forever. My pair is 14 years old and is still going strong (All metal construction). But they are also very expensive. Around $1400 per pair. If you don't want to spend that kind of money. KRK also sound good except for a very exaggerated bass.
 

walkie

macrumors 6502
Original poster
Feb 13, 2010
331
3
Well the first step is to have a good source (ie FLAC music files) or 320 bit rate.

You will want an external DAC. a USB DAC will work wonders. I use the AudioEngine d1 DAC (170$) and it is amazing, a big improvement over onboard sound. DACS start as low as 30$, as high as a few thousand.

In terms of speakers there is lots you can do...depending on desk space/budget/setup.

Thanks, thats Ok, external DAC is the right way to go, right now I'm trying to encode my whole music library to 320 bit rate, but is difficult to achieve a real quality music source since CD format is actually a downgrade format, maybe Vinyls is the right way.

Considering English is not your first language- yours is excellent :)
What type of music will you be listening? Is bass important or highs and lows?
As a previous poster said, the actual music file will need to be high- you could spend all this money but if you source of audio is not good it will be a waste.

I am not so sure about audio cards, sorry.

Speakers:
Audioengines are generally well reviewed. They have good sound, are not very expensive, they are customizable, and look attractive.
Online store
Thanks, I think I'm not so bad after all in English :), well my music tastes ranges from classical rock, hard rock, pop, grounge, heavy metal, jazz, funk to some latin rhythms like Salsa, Im very sensitive to highs so I like them to be crystal and precise without being harsh, I like midbass sounds with sticking out mid details (guitars, drums) and a rock solid subwoofer but don't like excessive "boom" sound.
 

walkie

macrumors 6502
Original poster
Feb 13, 2010
331
3
Hi,

Regarding amplified speakers, I have the Blue Sky EXO2 2.1 professional desktop monitor system - its sounds awesome (especially for the small size) and for what you get was relatively cheap (a little over £300 I think), see:
http://abluesky.com/products/exo2-new/

I also have an external 4-channel audio interface (so supports up to two sets of stereo outputs, good for me as I also do digital DJing and wanted a monitor channel, though input for recording etc. is only 2 channel), the Echo AudioFire4:
http://www.echoaudio.com/Products/FireWire/AudioFire4/index.php
"It's a full duplex 24-bit 96 kHz interface with a routing playback feature between the computer and different physical outputs, including S/PDIF."

The sound quality from this is superb. The only issue might be that its a Firewire interface and Apple is removing Firewire ports from their new lineup of portable computers, though I bought the new Apple Thunderbolt to Firewire adaptor to solve this problem for my new Macbook Air.

Firewire is arguably a better interface for an audio interface than USB 1.1 for various reasons (such as available bandwidth), though USB 2.0 (or even USB 3.0) audio interfaces will be on par.
Thanks, I didnt know about Blue Sky, but it looks a very good profesional equipment, the good thing about buying firewire stuff is that perhaps they lower the prices since Apple no longer supports it. I'm thinking about a 3.1 audio system if I have 4 output channel let's say I use 2 of them for the stereo speakers and then can I use the remaining channel for a SubWoofer?

----------

1. Soundcard: For your budget, you have only 1 choice. But its also one of the best sounding soundcard that money can buy. The Apogee duet 2. Look for review from the internet and you should get more detail. I personally just switched to an RME UCX. See if you are willing to spend some extra for iPad compatibility.

2. The only power monitor I can recommend is the Genelac 8030 or bigger. You will see them in use at all major recording studios. They sound so good that you can actually feel the sound. They also last forever. My pair is 14 years old and is still going strong (All metal construction). But they are also very expensive. Around $1400 per pair. If you don't want to spend that kind of money. KRK also sound good except for a very exaggerated bass.
Ok, I think the monitor speaker is a very personal decision since there are a lot of brands out there, KRK would be a good option since my budget is tight, I have seen datasheets and the Apogee seems to be the best configuration availible, let's see if I can find it at a good price.
 

Blackened Apple

macrumors regular
Jun 15, 2012
116
0
What media do you plan on listening to? CDs? Downloaded stuff? You mention vinyl, but do you already have a vinyl collection? And it would take some effort and equipment to transfer from those vinyls to high-quality lossless digital files.

What's your current set up? How do you listen to music on a regular basis?
 

Newtoy

macrumors newbie
Aug 5, 2012
10
0
Sorry, just read your other post. If you don't like excessive boom. You can forget KRK all together! Go to you local musical instrument store and listen to them all. (If the store don't stock Genelac, forget that store!) I am sure you can find something in your budget and to your taste.

You only need 2 channels to drive a sub. I don't recall any Mac music players that support 5.1 audio. All respectable studio monitors included builtin crossover circuit for the sub. (Either in the sub or in the monitors)

You can also forget about vinyls, they cannot touch CD in any way in term of sound quality.
 

screensaver400

macrumors 6502a
Jan 28, 2005
834
0
You can also forget about vinyls, they cannot touch CD in any way in term of sound quality.
All else equal this is true, but often the mastering of the vinyl version is better—more dynamic range and such.

For instance, every digital version of one of my favorite albums (CD, WAV download from label, etc) has distortion in one of the songs. Only the vinyl version, ripped to FLAC and then converted to other formats, doesn't.
 

walkie

macrumors 6502
Original poster
Feb 13, 2010
331
3
Hi people, I no longer own vinyls, I only mentioned it since I knew vinyls are recorded from the original master studio source whilest CD are a compressed downgraded digital version from the original because of the limited space available on a CD, and yes as someone mentioned above vinyls have a lot of dynamic range and no distortion, but I prefered digital stuff/downloaded stuff, I don't want a shelf full of vinyls anymore at home, so my prefered media library is comprise of downloaded/ripped MP3's/AAC files.

My current config is the default sound card and XS Focal Media System which sounds great, but want to upgrade to something more professional.
 

herpaderp

macrumors newbie
Jun 30, 2012
12
0
Have you considered headphones?

I'd be cautious about buying a set of speakers with an inbuilt amplifier: it's quite likely that you'll sacrifice sound quality in doing so. I'd either keep your existing amplifier (assuming it's good) and buy a new set of speakers or switch to headphones.

The headphone route is especially cost effective: you can get the same sound quality from a pair of headphones costing a few hundred dollars as you can from a speaker-based system costing tens of thousands of dollars. This isn't an exaggeration: it's far easier to manufacture and drive headphones than it is to produce and drive a big set of loud speakers (you can also forget about the acoustics of the room this way).

Getting a good DAC is important. The Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus is well priced and has received excellent reviews. It's upsampling and comes with a high quality headphone amplifer. There are lots of good DACs. This is a good (budget) model but there are surely others that could be well suited for your needs.

If you're looking for good headphones, just about anything in the Grado range is fantastic http://www.gradolabs.com/ . Their entry level SR60 is probably the best bang for your buck anywhere and their high end models (anything in the reference, statement or professional lines) are truly astonishing. AKG are also very well regarded. Consider shooting anyone who recommends Dr Dre's Beats...

I decided to do this a few years back and I haven't looked back. The only downside is that I've been forced to replace all of my MP3s and AAC files with lossless versions (you'll definitely notice a difference; MP3 sounds terrible by comparison) and I've become increasingly irritated by bad mastering practices (lack of dynamic range, clipping, over-compression, over use of effects).

Maybe you should visit a Hi-fi dealer and listen to some hardware.

You might also want to ask around here: http://www.head-fi.org/
 
Last edited:

Newtoy

macrumors newbie
Aug 5, 2012
10
0
All else equal this is true, but often the mastering of the vinyl version is better—more dynamic range and such.

For instance, every digital version of one of my favorite albums (CD, WAV download from label, etc) has distortion in one of the songs. Only the vinyl version, ripped to FLAC and then converted to other formats, doesn't.
If its a modern date recording. Blame the producer. If its an older recording, blame the format converter.

All modern date record recorded in 24bits 96kH or 192kH. CD are only 16bits. In the actual recording. Signal hardly go over 16bits. The producer must have forget to set the compressor on that track to remove that peak to avoid digital distortion. But in an vinyl record. They must compress the whole record to fit that into the vinyl which have much less dynamic range to begin with. So no distortion! You should write to the record company and demand for a replacement CD.
 

Newtoy

macrumors newbie
Aug 5, 2012
10
0
I'd be cautious about buying a set of speakers with an inbuilt amplifier: it's quite likely that you'll sacrifice sound quality in doing so.
I have to disagree on that. Most good studio monitor use bi-amp or tri-amp configuration. Each driver was driven with its dedicated amplifier. The end quality is not easily match by home hi-fi system in the same price range. My Genelac run circle around my hi-fi system (KEF 103/4 with Nakamichi Amp) in term of sound. But the room treatment have more influence on the sound quality at that level anyway.
 

oxfordguy

macrumors 6502a
Feb 27, 2008
503
4
Oxford, England
I'd be cautious about buying a set of speakers with an inbuilt amplifier: it's quite likely that you'll sacrifice sound quality in doing so. I'd either keep your existing amplifier (assuming it's good) and buy a new set of speakers or switch to headphones.
It depends what your needs are and also how much space you have in your computer listening environment. My Exo2 satellite speakers are relatively small, so sit on my desk without taking over, the sub sits under it.

Also, I actually find my Blue Sky Exo2 2.1 system has far better sound quality than my "main" system, which has separate £300 Cambridge Audio amp and a pair of decent Wharfedale speakers! The Exo also has has much better bass - not overdone, but deeper. Obviously a more expensive amp/speaker setup is likely to be better, though, especially in a larger room.

The headphone route is especially cost effective: you can get the same sound quality from a pair of headphones costing a few hundred dollars as you can from a speaker-based system costing tens of thousands of dollars. This isn't an exaggeration: it's far easier to manufacture and drive headphones than it is to produce and drive a big set of loud speakers (you can also forget about the acoustics of the room this way).
True up to a point, BUT hearing music over headphones is not the same as feeling it through a decent speaker set-up, though I guess it depends a bit on the sort of music you listen to (though I think this would apply equally to big orchestral pieces as to the latest electro-dubstep thing...)

Getting a good DAC is important. The Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus is well priced and has received excellent reviews. It's upsampling and comes with a high quality headphone amplifer. There are lots of good DACs. This is a good (budget) model but there are surely others that could be well suited for your needs.
If you get a decent audio interface, that should already have a decent DAC - that's the main (though not only) point!? e.g. both my Echo Audiofire4 and the Apogee mentioned already have excellent DACs...

If you're looking for good headphones, just about anything in the Grado range is fantastic http://www.gradolabs.com/ . Their entry level SR60 is probably the best bang for your buck anywhere and their high end models (anything in the reference, statement or professional lines) are truly astonishing. AKG are also very well regarded. Consider shooting anyone who recommends Dr Dre's Beats...
I'd agree on both counts! :)

Sennheiser usually aren't bad at the slightly lower end, but the Grado's are certainly more revealing

I decided to do this a few years back and I haven't looked back. The only downside is that I've been forced to replace all of my MP3s and AAC files with lossless versions (you'll definitely notice a difference; MP3 sounds terrible by comparison) and I've become increasingly irritated by bad mastering practices (lack of dynamic range, clipping, over-compression, over use of effects).
I go lossless only for "special" tracks and albums, as don't want to have to produce multiple different copies of things to avoid filling my iPhone etc. too quickly, but it does make a difference. The rest of the time I just convert (or buy) at 320Kbs MP3 or high Kbs AAC.

There's more information on the different formats here, ALAC is probably easiest for a Mac user, though FLAC is also worth a look at:
http://wiki.hydrogenaudio.org/index.php?title=Lossless_comparison

ALAC is better supported by Apple software and iPods etc., FLAC is more widely supported by other software

Hope this helps!
 

jamswirl

macrumors regular
Feb 25, 2011
114
0
I used to run some m-audio bx8a deluxe monitor speakers through a Cambridge audio dacmagic connected to mac and the sound was fantastic. Now have music streamed wirelessly through apple tv connected to dacmagic plus then Cambridge amp to monitor audio rx2 speakers and the sound is even better. The dacmagic plus has an inbuilt headphone amp which may be a bonus.

Also, check out head-fi.org, it's headphone based but there is heaps of stuff n dacs and computer audio.
 

zalo

macrumors newbie
Jul 30, 2012
27
0
For the money the Apogee Duet 2 is the best bang for your buck. After that each pair of monitors you buy is going to sound different in every room they are placed.

Find a store that does not charge a restocking fee and start bringing home monitors until you find a pair that makes you happy.
 

herpaderp

macrumors newbie
Jun 30, 2012
12
0
For the money the Apogee Duet 2 is the best bang for your buck.
But this guy is looking for a DAC and the Apogee Duet 2 combines a DAC with an ADC so he'd essentially be wasting half of his budget on the ADC part. Why not just get a dedicated USB DAC?
 

mrjayviper

macrumors regular
Jul 17, 2012
235
14
if you're a real audiophile, lossless is the way to go. sure you might not be able to hear it but having stuff in lossless makes it easy to encode it other formats.

I have around 10K lossless files and it's only about 170GB. and storage is getting cheaper by the day.
 

zalo

macrumors newbie
Jul 30, 2012
27
0
But this guy is looking for a DAC and the Apogee Duet 2 combines a DAC with an ADC so he'd essentially be wasting half of his budget on the ADC part. Why not just get a dedicated USB DAC?
Why spend the same amount to get a Dacmagic Plus that isn't audibly better? Also with the quality ADC in the Duet 2 you can use something like Room EQ Wizard. Sometimes its useful to have a way to record.
 

BrianBaughn

macrumors 603
Feb 13, 2011
6,452
970
Baltimore, Maryland
Unless you'll be sitting in front of the speakers in the same manner that a recording engineer sits in front of his at a console, avoid near-field type monitors as that's what they're for.
 

Newtoy

macrumors newbie
Aug 5, 2012
10
0
WOW! Totally clueless.
I don't know your experience on the subject. But I was the very 1st owner of the Sony CDP101 in my block at the time. I invited many audiophiles over to blind AB it against my Technics SL turntable with a Shure cart. and every single one of them declared victory for CD.

20 years later, unless there are some major technological advance in vinyl production. I don't know how it can regain the crown!

In pure scientific terms. There are really no comparison between the 2! Provide your fact to proof that I am clueless. But do read the following article before you say a thing!

http://wiki.hydrogenaudio.org/index.php?title=Myths_(Vinyl)

----------

I don't know your experience on the subject. But I was the very 1st owner of the Sony CDP101 in my block at the time. I invited many audiophiles over to blind AB it against my Technics SL turntable with a Shure cart. and every single one of them declared victory for CD.

20 years later, unless there are some major technological advance in vinyl production. I don't know how it can regain the crown!

In pure scientific terms. There are really no comparison between the 2! Provide your fact to proof that I am clueless. But do read the following article before you say a thing!

http://wiki.hydrogenaudio.org/index.php?title=Myths_(Vinyl)
http://wiki.hydrogenaudio.org/index.php?title=Myths_(Vinyl))
 

driftless

macrumors 65816
Sep 2, 2011
1,477
174
Chicago-area
I don't know your experience on the subject. But I was the very 1st owner of the Sony CDP101 in my block at the time. I invited many audiophiles over to blind AB it against my Technics SL turntable with a Shure cart. and every single one of them declared victory for CD.

20 years later, unless there are some major technological advance in vinyl production. I don't know how it can regain the crown!

In pure scientific terms. There are really no comparison between the 2! Provide your fact to proof that I am clueless. But do read the following article before you say a thing!

http://wiki.hydrogenaudio.org/index.php?title=Myths_(Vinyl)
Serious audiophiles, make that well-heeled audiophiles, still revere vinyl. Serious audiophile systems focused on vinyl start in the low thousands. The OP said audiophile. Real audiophile requires a DAC and then a nice speaker. Or, near field like a B&W speaker/DAC. IMHO I suggest a Peachtree DAC/integrated via ATV for serious music.

Listening to airplayed music through a DAC and tube pre-amp and dual amps as I type.
 

Newtoy

macrumors newbie
Aug 5, 2012
10
0
Serious audiophiles, make that well-heeled audiophiles, still revere vinyl. Serious audiophile systems focused on vinyl start in the low thousands. The OP said audiophile. Real audiophile requires a DAC and then a nice speaker. Or, near field like a B&W speaker/DAC. IMHO I suggest a Peachtree DAC/integrated via ATV for serious music.

Listening to airplayed music through a DAC and tube pre-amp and dual amps as I type.
Real audiophiles never heard about Apogee! Real audiophiles will get B&W to custom make them a pair of near field. Real audiophiles also buy $1000 a piece power cable. Real audiophile will not use anything other then solid core pure silver cable.

Real music producer used only Apogee and protool ADC. Real producer use $30 balanced cable for everything. Real producer judge their mix on Genelac. Real producer use tube preamp because it add color to the vocal.

Do you see the difference?